Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting the first shot on BARABBAS

by Richard Fleischer

It's always a good idea to start shooting a picture when you can, with some of the easier scenes so the company has a chance to break in, get used to working together, solve the inevitable organizational problems. We began filming on one of our biggest, most difficult, and most complicated sequences: the spectacles and gladiatorial combats in the two-thousand-year-old arena in Verona, which was doubling for the Colisseum in Rome. Talk about "with a cast of thousands" - our first day's shooting broke a world record for the number of costumed extras, 9,115.
Knowing the reputation of the Italians for being something less than highly organized, I had my doubts about their ability to do the hairdressing, wardrobe, makeup, props, and God knows what else, for more than 9,000 extras, 300 gladiator-stuntmen, and an entire circus with lions, elephants, and bears, and have them on the set and ready to go by 9:00 A.M.
I was wrong. They did it. Commencing at 4:00 A.M., a fleet of seventy-five buses went to nearby towns and outlying districts of Verona and shuttled the previously hired thousands of extras to the arena, where they went through a production line and came out looking like Roman citizens of two millennia ago, perfect in every detail. Much to my surprise, by nine-thirty in the morning I was ready to line up with the actors. I called for Tony Quinn to come on the set. At nine forty-five I called for him again, and again at ten. By ten-thirty I was frantic. The extras were getting restless, the lions were sleeping in the sun, the excitement was draining away. Where the hell was Tony?
The answer, when I finally got someone to admit it, was dismaying, but somehow not altogether unexpected. They had left his specially designed gladiator sandals in Rome! Now they were working like mad trying to mock up a temporary pair so we could at least get through the day. We got the first shot before lunch, which, any way you look at it, we something of a miracle. It seems the Italians (if this crew was at all representative) are extremely efficient down to almost the last detail.

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